2015 P & G championships: Meet USA’s junior national team

After two days of competition, USA’s junior national team has been determined. Once again, USA Gymnastics did not choose to add gymnasts other than the ones who gained an automatic birth by finishing top 6 in the All Around. Those athletes are:

Laurie Hernandez

gym: MG elite

Year of birth: 2000

Best events: bars and floor

Most notable skills: double twisting yurchenko on vault, downie and ricna + pak on bars, switch ring on beam and double arabian + stag on floor

11890994_10152605823632168_3730941552701945866_nLaurie participated in her first competition as an elite athlete at the 2012 Secret Classic and everyone who was watching was immediately in love. Nobody cared about her low difficulty, her execution errors and her inconsistency. From the very first moment she took the floor it was clear that this girl had “it”. She didn’t perform well at nationals and she didn’t show much potential but she still was a fan favorite thanks to her artistry and her ability to perform. In one year, she improved more than anyone thought it was possible, she added new difficult element and she cleaned up all her routines without ever losing her style and personality. From being 21st at the 2012 national championships, she went to become the national silver all around medalist in 2013. She made the national team for the first time in her career and she got her first international assignments. Unfortunately, 2014 wasn’t anywhere near as successful, since Laurie had to miss the entire competition season due to two different injuries. A year away from the sport can be detrimental for an athlete’s11855737_10152602642242168_6588393658757587810_n physical and mental state, but that wasn’t the case for Hernandez. After being away from the gym for months, she managed to regain her old skills relatively fast and she returned to competition at the 2015 Jesolo Trophy, where she won four gold medals.
She continued her comeback by winning the All Around, the uneven bars and the vault title at the Secret Classics and then, she won the All Around and the Uneven Bars title at the P & G championships. After winning every single competition she entered, Laurie is definitely the best junior in her country right now and probably, the best junior gymnast in the world.

Jazzy Foberg

gym: MG elite

year of birth: 2000

best events: bars and floor

most notable skills: double twisting yurchenko on vault, maloney + gienger, van leeuwen and church + pak on bars, full twisting double layout and silivas on floor

11900012_10152605824257168_6279101860402914342_nThe reigning national champion, Jazzy Foberg was only a tenth away from defending her title. Jazzy had a pretty similar career to her teammate. She never had the artistry, and therefore the fan base, that Laurie did but she also went from being a weak junior to being one of the best in the country in only one year. She started her elite career in 2013, where she didn’t show any signs of a future star. Her difficulty was weak, her execution was mediocre and she struggled to hit10983184_10152602642552168_6042667766528771655_n her routines. She was not able to qualify into nationals and she did not receive much attention. However, this changed in 2014, when she appeared with upgrades on every single event and she took advantage of stronger athlete’s mistake to win the junior national title. To go from not even making it to championships to being the best gymnast in the country in one year is an incredible achievement but Jazzy knew that this was only the beginning of her career. She kept working hard, learning new elements and improving her executions. Today, she proved that her gold medal last year was not pure luck and she showed that she is here to stay by winning a silver medal and showing some of the strongest routines of the competition. Her start value on floor could compete against some of the world’s best seniors and lots of athletes out there would kill for her skill level on bars. She is probably the best junior tumbler in the world right now while she also shows potential on vault and beam. This is Jazzy’s second time on the national team and she is proving herself as one of the potential contenders for next year’s Olympic team.

Ragan Smith

year of birth: 2000

gym: Texas Dreams

best events: beam and floor

most notable skills: double twisting yurchenko on vault, ricna on bars, layout to two feet, switch ring, piked standing full and double pike on beam, Double Lay out, 1.5 + triple and double arabian on floor.

11899990_10152605860727168_8117700510960637039_nRagan earned the status of an international elite athlete in 2013 and she had satisfying results. She competed at Secret Classic, placing 3rd on beam and she qualified to the national championships, where she finished on the top 10 on both beam and floor. It was obvious that she had massive potential. She was powerful, she was quick and flexible but she still didn’t have the polish and the control she needed in order to be one of the country’s best. At the end of 2013, she switched gyms and she moved to Texas Dreams in order to train under Kim Zmeskal. A few months later, she was named to the junior national team for the first team and she traveled to Italy for her first international competition. She wasn’t able to defend her spot on11892002_10152602643362168_8737706690667162487_n the team during last year’s nationals despite winning silver medals on beam and floor but she was added back to the team at one of the following training camps. 2015 was the year when Ragan really started to shine. From the very first camp video we saw from her, we knew that she was going to be stronger than ever and we were not disappointed. She showed impressive upgrades and most importantly, she was much more consistent and confident that we’ve seen her in the past. After two days of competition, she finished third in the All Around and she earned her first national titles on beam and floor.

Jordan Chiles

year of birth: 2001 (not eligible for Rio)

gym: Naydenov Gymnastics

best events: vault and floor

most notable skills: double twisting yurchenko on vault, tkatcev + bail and toe on full + gienger on bars, back handspring + loso + loso on beam and double arabian on floor

11895965_10152605822437168_6852692226182590411_nAt the age of 14, Jordan is the youngest national team member and the only athlete in the team who is not eligible for the Rio Olympic Games. She became an elite gymnast in 2013 and she immediately achieved impressive results when she won the All Around and the vault title at the American Classic and she finished just outside the top 10 at nationals. She was named to the national team in the beginning of the 2014 and she participated in the Jesolo Tropgy where she won one gold and one silver medal. After that, she proved that she is one to watch by winning the All Around title at the Secret Classics, beating excellent athletes like Nia Dennis and 11888131_10152602643652168_7290401703183016364_nNorah Flatley. She struggled during the first day of nationals but she came back fighting during day 2 and she finished on 4th place and made the national team once again. She gave us a small heart attack at the 2015 Secret Classic, when she didn’t manage to complete her amanar attempt on vault but thankfully she did not hurt herself. She had a very rough day, falling on vault, beam and floor and only finishing 8th. Thankfully she came back strong at nationals, where she finished fourth in the all Around and first on vault. She has trained some crazy skills, like a triple front twist on floor, a double double on bars and a patterson on beam but she is wise enough to save them for later. It is never easy to have a successful career and make it to the Olympics when you only turn senior in the beginning of the quad, and Jordan has a long road ahead of her but she definitely has everything she needs in order to be a great athletes. She still has to work on her consistency and she will have to be peaked correctly, but she is definitely one to watch for the future.

Christina Desiderio

year of birth: 2000

gym: Parkettes

best events: beam and floor

stand out skills: double twisting yurchenko on vault, bhs + bhs + layout and switch ring on beam, double double and double layout on floor

11900046_10152605823917168_7429487963772478375_nFinally! After two years of mistakes, falls and disappointments, Christina Desiderio is a member of USA’s junior national team. Christina started her elite career in 2013 and from this first year she showed fantastic potential on beam and floor. In 2014, she had all the difficulty she needed to compete against the country’s best athletes but what she lacked was the consistency. She had all the big skills but she could not perform them when it mattered and she was never able to place in the top spots. This happened at 2014 Classic, at 2014 nationals and at the 2015 Classic. She was also never added to the national team during training camps, which means she was most likely underperforming there as well. It just seemed like she would never be able to get it together and perform under pressure but she did just that today. She finally hit four out of four and she showed some of the most impressive tumbling you will see from a junior gymnast. I’m not sure if Christina, who shines on beam and floor, can fit into the puzzle and be a contender for USA’s Olympic team next year, but I am sure that if she stays consistent she can have a fantastic elite career and I am very excited to see what she can do from now on.

Sydney Johnson-Scharpf

year of birth: 2000

gym: Brandy Johnson’s

best events: beam and floor

most notable skills: double twisting yurchenko on vault, full twisting double layout on bars, switch ring on beam and Dos Santos on floor

11902254_10152605822932168_7814437362918989513_nSydney is the daughter of Olympian and world medalist Brandy Johnson and she is coached by her mother. She was named after the city where the 2000 were host and she is now hoping to become an Olympian herself. She started getting lots of attention when she competed at the 2013 Nastia Liukin Cup. Her smile, her attitude and her artistry were enough to make everyone watch her and when she was a fan favorite before she even qualified to elite. In fact, fans and commentators were already talking about her as a contender for Rio before she was even a contender for the national team. Unfortunately, the expectations people had from her proved to be unrealistic. Sydney had the style and the elegance but she did not have the difficulty or the consistency she needed in order to compete against the top elite gymnasts of the country and she wasn’t able to place well in the All Around at nationals. She did not show much progress in 2014, when she once 11889705_10152602643722168_4623373261542269416_nagain was on one of the bottom spots at nationals and even her most loyal fans had to admit that she did not look like she was going to have a stunning elite career. Thankfully, she proved that she is actually one to watch in 2015 by showing impressive performances at Classics and placing 6th at Nationals. Sydney still has the artistry and the personality that made the world fall in love back in 2013, but now she also has the difficulty and the scoring potential of a world class junior gymnast and I can’t wait to see her competing internationally.

Every single member of the national team besides Jordan Chiles will turn senior next year so we can expect lots of additions to the team in the beginning of 2016. Athletes like Gabby Perea, Morgan Hurd, Deanne Soza, Shilese Jones and Abby Paulson will be some of the top contenders.

photos by John Cheng

cover photo by Christy Ann Linder

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